Seeds and serendipity

‘Just as gracious and magical as anyone would imagine she’d be’

By Jennifer Lee
Special to the Rappahannock News

This past Friday, I headed south from my home in Clarke County to the equally bucolic Rappahannock County into the first sunlit afternoon in what seemed like weeks around here. I was headed to the Little Washington Theater for a film screening that the organization for which I am executive director, the American Conservation Film Festival, was presenting in partnership with the Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community.

On the way, I delivered a film to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal for a private screening for SCBI staff and Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) students and faculty on October 4. While there, the nice professor, Anneke DeLuyker, who has organized the screening, mentioned that Jane Goodall was on site and that if I wanted to stick around she would be speaking to a small group of students that evening.

I could hardly believe my ears and good fortune. Dr. Goodall has been a hero of mine since long before I was involved in environmental and conservation issues. Her courage, grace, and humility and love for animals has made an impression on me since I was a teenager.

Jane Goodall spoke last week at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal. Courtesy photo

So, around 6:30 on this mild and sunny evening with the backdrop of the rolling, forested hills, Jane appeared. I gasped, as she is even more beautiful in person than on the screen.

She warmly greeted her hosts, hugging each one, and then placed her menagerie of stuffed animals, including her famous monkey, Mr. H, on the table in front of her. She spoke in her very soft and lilting voice to the group of about 20 undergraduate students in residence at the SMSC but was most interested in taking their questions. I have met rock stars and famous actors, but have never really been starstruck . . . until now.

This woman — this warrior, princess, scientist, pioneer, advocate, humanitarian, and inspiration — was right in front of us, in the flesh, and just as gracious and magical as anyone would imagine she’d be.

I had to dash off to Washington to get to the theater to introduce the film screening (SEED: The Untold Story) to complement the annual Rappahannock Farm Tour, but the 15 minutes I got to be in the same space as Jane will never be forgotten. I shared my story with the audience at the screening, and they gasped, too.

And coincidentally, the film trailer we showed before the feature film was for Jane, a poignant, beautiful new film made from a hundred hours of never-seen National Geographic footage of Jane when she was just starting her work with chimpanzees in Africa in the 1960s. Jane, the film, will be showing at the American Conservation Film Festival in Shepherdstown, WV, on Friday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Frank Arts Center on the campus of Shepherd University.

Thirty-five additional and exceptional conservation-focused films will be showing throughout the weekend at Shepherd and the National Conservation Training Center as part of the annual film festival. A filmmaker workshop, special films and programs for children, discussions with filmmakers and conservation experts, and a reception round out the festival experience through October 14. The eight award-winning films will screen for an encore showing the following weekend, October 19-21.

For tickets and more information, including the festival schedule and film descriptions, go to

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